Debunking the Myth: No One is Imprisoned Solely for Minor Drug Offenses Despite Liberal Claims

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One of the talking points of the soft-on-crime liberal agenda is that people with “minor drug offenses” should be released from prison. However, a closer examination reveals that no one is in prison solely for a minor drug offense.

People advocating for leniency often argue based on the perceived minor nature of some drug offenses. However, several points need to be considered.

Many of those incarcerated for drug offenses have significant prior convictions and are often serving sentences based on cumulative legal infractions rather than isolated minor offenses. They are frequently in violation of parole or probation, or have outstanding warrants for other crimes or failure to appear in previous cases.

One in five inmates is imprisoned for drug offenses. Under U.S. law, possession can result in up to a one-year jail term for a first offender. The reason you see headlines claiming someone is serving a long prison sentence for possession of a small amount of drugs is that they are repeat offenders. Repeat offenders receive longer sentences, and most people in prisons are repeat offenders.

Within three years of release from prison, sixty-eight percent of drug offenders are re-arrested, while 70% of all people released from prison, regardless of the charges, are re-arrested within five years. On a ten-year timeline, more than 80% are re-arrested for committing the same crime again.

Minor drug offenses, such as possession of small amounts of drugs, are among the most common grounds for arrest. When police make these arrests, they often discover that the suspect has outstanding warrants, which could be for more serious crimes. These suspects are less likely to be offered bail and then become talking points for reformists who claim that someone has been jailed without bail for a minor drug offense. Similar claims arise when this person is sentenced to prison.

Parole or probation violations are another reason people may be jailed or sent to prison after an arrest for minor possession or use of drugs. Failing a drug test or being caught with drugs, even in small amounts, are considered probation violations, and the individual may have to return to prison to serve out their sentence. Additionally, some states have “three strikes” laws, where individuals with two or more serious convictions face life sentences upon their third felony, which could include a drug offense.

The federal system also imposes mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses, contributing to longer sentences even for those with seemingly minor drug offenses but significant prior criminal activity.

Even the term “minor” drug offense can be misleading. What the liberal media or public might label as minor can involve significant quantities of drugs or intent to distribute, rather than mere possession for personal use. Many cases involve aggregated charges where the drug offense is one of several charges. When sentenced, the drug offense may be highlighted, but it is often part of a broader pattern of criminal behavior.

Yet another claim that obfuscates the truth is that innocent people are jailed or that people are jailed for minor drug offenses. Jail and prison are terms often used interchangeably but have differing legal definitions. When a suspect is arrested on suspicion of a crime, they are jailed until they appear before a judge for a bail hearing. If they make bail, they can go home until their trial. If they cannot make bail or are not offered bail due to specific grounds such as parole or probation violations, outstanding warrants for other crimes, flight risk, being a repeat offender, or committing a violent offense, they remain in jail until their trial.

In some cases, suspects are found innocent and are released. In others, they are found guilty and sentenced. If the sentence is more than one year, they may go to prison; if it is less than one year, they may remain in jail. About 30% of people in jail have been convicted and are either awaiting punishment or serving their sentence. This means 70% have not been convicted, which is why reformists claim that most people in jail are innocent.

It is important to keep in mind that while some narratives suggest people are jailed for minor drug offenses, these cases often involve individuals with extensive criminal histories or those who violated terms of parole or probation.

Moreover, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a significant portion of individuals incarcerated for drug offenses have prior convictions and were under legal supervision at the time of their arrest. This context is often omitted in discussions advocating for clemency based solely on the nature of the current offense.

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Dr. Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China MBA, is an economist and national security analyst with a focus on China and Russia. He is a graduate of American Military University.

You can email Antonio Graceffo here, and read more of Antonio Graceffo's articles here.


Thanks for sharing!